Review: 2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

Wednesday December 17th, 2014 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

By David Colman

Hypes: Looker with a Cooker of a V6
Gripes: Automatic Rain Sensitive Wipers Needed

Is there a better way to prove a new truck’s mettle than to drive it through a raging storm, not once, but twice? That’s just how we experienced GMC’s completely new Canyon pick up. Our round trip called for a run from Marin County down to Monterey on the very day the biggest rain storm in two years rolled into Northern California. Our return trip back to Marin coincided with the arrival of the second big front three days later. The Canyon passed all tests – from traction to comfort to outward vision – with dismissive ease. If you ‘re looking for a staunch companion in bad weather, the GMC Canyon is as good as it gets.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

GM’s Brazilian design staff had a hand in crafting this stunning hauler’s bold but businesslike appearance. Our 4×4 model, fitted with an $1,190 All Terrain Package, stood Texas tall on its off-road capable Z71 suspension, and 17 x 8 inch “Dark Argent Metallic” alloy rims with Kevlar-reinforced 255/65R17 Goodyear Wrangler rubber. The wide channeled tread of the Wranglers did the trick in repulsing rivers of rain water. At a steady 65mph on Interstate 101, the Canyon swept through the puddles without ever losing its footing. It did so, moreover, in 2WD, because traction with just the rear wheels driving was so good that 4WD was never needed. For the record, the AutoTrac 4WD offers 4 different settings for conditions ranging from sport driving to snow bashing. If off-roading appeals, you will appreciate the fact that the Z71 package offers hill-descent control. However, the mild price you pay for all that under body clearance is a high cab step-in. To seat yourself with relative ease, you’ll need the optional ($745), tubular off-road assist steps which are unobtrusively finished in matte black.

GMC has done a swell job with this pick up’s exterior finish. The massive chrome grill looms over lesser traffic like the prow of a cruise ship. A pair of ‘All Terrain’ ID plates grace the front quarter panels and match similar tributes branded into headrests of all four seats. The 5’2″ short bed (a 6’2″ long bed is available) sports a $475 liner appliqué that matches the matte black of the assist steps. Although you can opt for an extended cab, the crew cab is the way to go if you plan on carrying passengers. During our stay in Monterey, we chauffeured four occupants for two days running and never once heard a complaint from the back seat. Vision outside is excellent from inside, even in back. The panoramic rear window of the cab contributes to the stunning greenhouse effect.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

Our Canyon enjoyed 18MPG for the long round trip, The EPA rates overall mileage at 20MPG for the 3.6 liter version we tested. Although a base model 2.5 liter inline 4 is available, it produces only 190hp and 183 lb.-ft. of torque, hardly adequate for such a beefy vehicle. The V6, on the other hand, makes 303hp and 270lb.-ft. of torque and reports smartly to your right foot whenever you need a boost to merge or change lanes. Assisting in this regard is an exceptionally smooth shifting 6-speed automatic that can be locked into Manual Mode (“M”). When you select M, a cumbersome set of factors restrict transmission selection to limited gears, depending on your speed. However, these limitations can prove helpful when traversing slippery roads at low speeds. When configured like our test GMC, with a $250 optional “Trailering Equipment Package,” and the digger 3.43:1 rear axle ratio (no extra charge), the V6 Canyon will pull a 6,700 pound trailer.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

The Canyon cabin is a place of many virtues. The dashboard snaps into action when you insert the ignition key by scrolling spectacular GMC graphics across the huge 8″ color touch screen. The screen displays your free 3 month trial XM Satellite radio reception, as well as your 6-month free introductory On Star hook up, which includes directional commands. There’s also an Intellilink connection, so you are never short of information sources inside this command center. The red stitched jet black seats feature separate heat sources for squab and backrest. We were entirely complaint free after many long hours in the saddle.

This is a fairly big rig, so your only operational complaint is going to stem from parking it. It does require more ‘terrain’ than you may be used to locating. Aside from that obvious caveat, this new, stunning GMC is a real grand Canyon.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

  • Engine: 3.6 Liter Direct Injection DOHC V6 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 302hp
  • Torque: 270lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $39,090
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Infiniti QX70

Tuesday December 16th, 2014 at 3:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Infiniti QX70

By David Colman

Hypes: Black Never Looked Better
Gripes: Sloping Roof Cuts Into Storage

You could have had a V-8. Last year, that is. But for 2015, Infiniti has eliminated the 390hp, 5 liter V8 from the QX70 model range in favor of a 3.7 liter V6 good for 325hp. The now standard V6 is just adequate to the task of propelling the 4,225 pound QX. Although rated to tow a trailer load of 3,500 pounds, you might find tough sledding over the Sierra with such a combo. The 7-speed automatic gearbox is well suited to extract maximum performance from the V6, with rev-matching available on downshifts in manual mode.

The $3,550 Sport Package adds, among many niceties, solid magnesium paddle shifters to facilitate manual transmission operation. These oblong extrusions are partially covered with a rubberized surface that insures contact regardless of where the steering wheel is positioned. The Sport Package really improves the overall appearance of the QX by replacing stock 8×18 inch rims with gigantic 9.5×21 inch black wheels carrying 265/45R21 Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 tires at each corner. These 45 Series tires improve handling precision at the expense of ride discomfort over potholes and parking lot risers. The small trade-off, however, is well worth it because the QX is so responsive and planted when you tackle curving back roads.

2015 Infiniti QX70

Opting for the Sport Package also reduces glare to a minimum since almost all surfaces normally chromed or bright receive the black-out treatment here. The front grill, fog light surrounds, roof rails, exterior mirror housings, side air vents, lower side moldings and rear finishers are all done in black. Even the headliner in the cabin is black. This is not to say that the Sport QX is entirely free of color, however. Wild and attractive purple stitching adorns the leather covering the seat bolsters, door panels and steering wheel. Matching purple rings outline the tachometer face (redline 7,500rpm) and the speedometer which optimistically reads to 180 mph. In all, Infiniti has done a handsome job of packaging the QX in a menacing outfit that enhances the vehicles good bone structure.

On the other hand, the $2,950 Technology Package is something you’ll want to eliminate from your build sheet. Nanny assistance devices are all the rage these days, and Infiniti offers an alphabet full of them guaranteed to assure your perpetual annoyance. Most drivers won’t have a clue about the meaning of the acronym dubbed controls splayed randomly across the dashboard reading “IBA,” “FCW,” and “DCA.” These are all part of a sustained campaign to eliminate your brain from the driving equation. If you have the time to spend reading your newspaper printed owner’s manual, you will determine, after much effort, that IBA means Intelligent Brake Assist, FCW is Forward Control Warning, and DCA is Distance Control Assist. Further perusal of said owner’s manual reveals that no fewer than 16 exceptions can potentially disable operation of IBA, while 12 possibilities exist to render FCW inoperative. Mercifully, the QX70′s central command control allows you to disengage most of these assistance devices so your journey is not continually interrupted by incessant warning chimes.

2015 Infiniti QX70

The sports seats offered as part of the Sport Package are particularly fetching. The perforated leather seating surfaces are sewn in a handsome quilted pattern that looks expensive and inviting. The analog clock, elegantly set into a prominent position in the center of the dashboard, is a welcome throwback to the first Infiniti Q45, a nice example of traditional marque carryover. The circular computer control mouse conveniently located above the clock, is easy to operate while at a standstill. The dial includes four directional command buttons, with a center button for selection purposes, and a separate button labeled “back.” This system controls the QX’ hard drive navigation system, offered for $4,300 as part of the Premium Package. This compendium also upgrades the base 7 inch screen to an 8 inch color touch display monitor, and provides an “around-view” look at all sides of your SUV, with moving object detection. This feature is particularly useful since low aspect vision is not a strong point from the high mounted driver’s seat of the QX70.The expensive package also provides, Voice Recognition, plus “Nav Traffic” and “Nav Weather” reports.

2015 Infiniti QX70

This rear-wheel-drive QX70, done up in Sport Package black, is an undeniably handsome addition to the Infiniti SUV model range. Its calming and comfortable interior will lull you into virtual somnolence once you’ve learned to disable the intrusive Technology Package.

2015 GMC Canyon 4WD SLE Crew Cab Short Box

  • Engine: 3.7 liter V6
  • Horsepower: 325hp
  • Torque: 267lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 17 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $58,085
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

Tuesday December 9th, 2014 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

By David Colman

Hypes: Immaculate Construction
Gripes: If You’re an Enthusiast, Opt for the 220hp AWD Version

Is there a car with a longer formal title than this Audi? Let’s translate its multiple messages. For 2015, Audi has mounted an assault on the entry level luxury market with its new-to-North America A3 line. These trim and diminutive offerings weigh just over 3,100 pounds, measure 175 inches in length, but stretch wheelbase to 104 inches. Available in either sedan, convertible or coming hatchback body style, the A3 promises to be the volume leader in the company’s model line. The Cabriolet we tested means convertible in Audi dialect. Its engine is the near universal VW base power plant, a 1.8 liter inline four fitted with a turbocharger to produce 170hp and 200lb.-ft. of torque. This engine powers the front-wheel-drive (FWD) version of the A3 that holds down the lower rung of the price ladder, with a base cost of $35,600. The driveline includes Audi’s automatic gearbox, a 6 speed unit without paddle shifts that Audi designates “S tronic.” If you elect to move your purchase upscale, the Cabriolet can be equipped with all-wheel-drive, which also includes a significant engine upgrade to a 2.0 liter turbo four good for 220hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque. Only the smaller base motor, however, returns stellar fuel economy: 35 MPG on the highway, 24 MPG around town, and an overall rating of 28MPG.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

At first blush, it would appear that this A3 Cabrio’s base price is stunningly cheap for such an exotic import from Germany. But once you lavish the base package with what Audi calls its “A3 Prestige model” you’ve bumped that affordable entry level price by a whopping $8,450. If you elect to forego Prestige for pauperism, you will have to do without the following niceties: 18 inch, 10 spoke alloy wheels, heated front seats, power folding and heated rear view mirrors, Audi advanced key, auto-dimming driver side rear view mirror, aluminum interior package, S line exterior trim, LED interior lighting package, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, Navigation system, Parking system with rear view camera, Bang & Olufsen Sound System and LED headlights with LED daylight running lights. Particularly engaging are the aluminum bits that comprise the interior trim. Horizontally striated strips of silver look terrific decorating the dash and door panels. The S line threshold entry plates add elegance to the interior. And the LED cabin lighting thoughtfully illuminates the speaker enclosures on the door kick panels, and casts just enough illumination into the footwalls to convey a sense of well being. Audi mounts modestly sized (225/40R18) Continental Pro Contact tires on the handsome alloy wheels. All in all, this Prestige upgrade is well worth the stiff tariff.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

Another upgrade you’d want to consider is the all-wheel-drive configuration powered by the 220hp 2.0 liter motor, because the base 1.8T engine of our test car is just barely adequate to the car’s acceleration needs. Without steering wheel mounted shift paddles, it’s rather difficult to manipulate the S tronic gearbox in manual override mode. Most of the time, you’ll defer to the Drive position and let the 6-speed choose its own up and downshifts. This it does in a habitually lazy manner that is serene but slow. If your driving style tends to be more, rather than less aggressive, opt for the AWD 2 liter turbo A3.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

This Audi, built in Hungary, with a German gearbox, is beautifully constructed. Its handsome and aerodynamic cloth top drops or rises in just a matter of seconds. With the top raised, this A3 is as quiet as a sedan. When you drop the roof and hold the controller down until the operation is complete, all four windows automatically elevate. Oddly enough, however, when you erect the top, none of the windows shut at the end of the cycle. The interior of this Audi is far more luxurious and finished looking than similar entry level offerings from Mercedes or Lexus. In particular, the detailing is exquisite around the knurled and gimbaled air vents as well as on the Multi Media Interface (MMI) control knob on the central console. There’s a richness to the color and feel of the Chestnut Brown leather interior that belies the A3′s bargain price. Audi proves the point that you do not have to spend more than 50 thousand dollars to enjoy the full benefit of the company’s legendary vault like quality.

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

2015 Audi A3 Cabriolet 1.8T FWD S tronic

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp @ 4500-6200rpm
  • Torque: 200lb.-ft.@1600-4400rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 24MPG City/35 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,525
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

Monday December 8th, 2014 at 1:1212 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Off-Road Ready
Gripes: Could Use a (Grand Cherokee)V8 and Brighter Headlights

Jeep has an engaging way of reminding you of the company’s storied past. For example, the lower spoke of the Latitude’s fat rimmed steering wheel is inscribed with the notation “Since 1941.” The granite colored fabric covering the seats looks more serviceable than luxurious. The khaki pouch containing the owner’s manual might have once served as a bag for your canteen. The heritage on display is so convincing you almost expect to find a jerry can buried in the recesses of the trunk.

But this Jeep earns its stripes with more than just idle allusions. This is a real, heavy duty, off-road capable 4×4, as distinguished from those light duty all-wheel-drive interlopers so many manufacturers try to pawn off these days as trailblazers. Your first clue that you could tackle the Rubicon trail with the Latitude is the fat knob on the center console reading “4WD LOW” which allows you to creep over otherwise impassable terrain. Yes, this bargain priced $31,020 Cherokee not only offers 4WD Low for tricky travel under 25mph, but also a mechanical locking rear differential (which Jeep calls “E-Locker”) to navigate especially treacherous passages slower than 15mph. This golden promise of traction comes to you for just $995, if you order Customer Preferred Package 27J. Included in the benefits are a 9-speed automatic gearbox with Jeep Active Drive II, Hill Descent Control, and Off-Road Suspension.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Power for our test Cherokee came from a 3.2 liter V6 more notable for its highway gas economy (26 MPG) than its sheer horsepower (271hp). The 9 speed transmission does an admirable job of maximizing power produced by the 24 valve engine. The 3.25:1 rear axle ratio strikes a decent compromise between acceleration potential and acceptable cruising mileage. The floor-mounted shift allows you to override gear selection at any time, and quite frankly, there are times when the V6 needs a little extra prodding from a lower gear to complete passing maneuvers. Otherwise, you will discover that if you just leave this gearbox in “Drive,” a considerable lag occurs between the time you floor the accelerator and when the engine actually responds.

The Latitude is perfectly configured for long distance freeway jaunts. There is absolutely no wind noise or road intrusion inside the cockpit at speeds over 70mph. This quietude is surprising in view of the Jeep’s off-road suspension underpinnings, so you can probably thank the Firestone Destination tires (225/65R17)for contributing to the silence. If you order the optional Trailer Tow Package, this Jeep will pull 4,500 pounds; or 2,000 pounds without the special fittings. Trailer Sway Damping is a standard Cherokee feature.

On twisting back roads, Latitude is not quite so happy as it is on the freeway. Here, its frontal weight bias causes it to plow into turns, requiring you to crank an extra 20 degrees of lock into the steering wheel, just I thought I was done with the exercise. This tendency became especially demanding in heavy rain, which caused the front Firestones to drift even further from my anticipated trajectory. The “Bi-Function Halogen Projector Headlamps” sound more proficient than they are. Actual night time performance was marginal.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

Although the interior of the Latitude is mostly monochromatic, it’s done with an understated panache that makes you appreciate Jeep’s good taste. The seats, though manually controlled, are quite supportive and handsomely done, with white stitched black side bolsters, and grey cloth inserts that defy sliding. The oatmeal headliner brightens the expansive interior substantially, and brushed aluminum graces the door pulls. Matte titanium colored bezels outline the instrument binnacle, centrally mounted 5 inch touch screen, and air vents. The compartment between the front seats is commodious; you can optionally equip its upper level with a wireless phone charging pad, but be sure not to lay your key fob on it. The floor in the trunk area is hinged at the rear. Lift it, and you find a large hidden set of four shallow storage bins. Remove the bin partition for access to the space saver spare and jack.

Jeep offers a lot of vehicle for the money here. If you are serious about off-roading, or just enjoy the rugged grace this company has been refining since 1941, you need to check out the latest Cherokee Latitude.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4x4

2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4×4

  • Engine: 3.2 Liter V6 24 Valve with VVT
  • Horsepower: 271hp
  • Torque: 239 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,020
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Scion FR-S

Tuesday November 25th, 2014 at 1:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Scion FR-S

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Better Than a Bug Eye Sprite
Gripes: Some Interior Ergonomic Improvements Needed

Over the course of a car model year, I typically test 50 new vehicles. Of those, fewer than 10 make the cut as cars I would buy and own. The Scion FR-S is one of those 10 for 2014. The FR-S’ fun-to-price ratio pegs it as a best buy in the sports coupe category. If you’re an enthusiast driver looking for slot car handling in a practical, economical package, this Scion fits the bill. Every time you slip behind its perforated black leather steering wheel, you know you’re in for a spell of undiluted driving entertainment. Only a car as nimble and light (2,758 lb.) as the FR-S can provide the immediate feedback that is this Scion’s defining trait. The interface between driver and machine is so polished and rewarding that you will never look at recreational driving the same way again. That you can experience automotive nirvana for a base price of just $24,700 defies logic.

2014 Scion FR-S

It certainly isn’t the FR-S’ Subaru power plant that evokes such jubilation. The 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder engine is hard pressed to make 200hp and just 151lb.-ft. of torque without also producing substantial noise and vibration. The silver faced tachometer, which features a programmable rev indicator, reads to 9,000rpm. Although the Boxer motor reaches redline at 7,600rpm, you’ll want to up shift sooner than that to avoid the racket at redline. Although the FR-S is not blindingly quick in a straight line, it’s so well balanced that you hardly notice the power shortfall. The superb steering feel, ultra precise shift linkage, and highly retentive sport seats foster the illusion that you’re driving a race car. Only the similarly priced Mazda MX-5 comes close to emulating the responsiveness of the FR-S. And the petit Mazda roadster offers none of the FR-S’ practicality: roomy interior, hatchback storage access, abbreviated rear seat, and permanently enclosed construction. You get the same kind of performance as the MX-5 without making the kind of concessions that render the Mazda comparatively impractical for daily use. This Scion can be your daily driver all week long, then play racer for you on the weekends.

2014 Scion FR-S

Of course, you will notice a few price point-bred drawbacks to FR-S ownership. When you open the cabin door, you will be hard pressed to stuff your bag or purse into the rear seat area without first tilting the front seatbacks forward. When you flop them backwards in order to climb in, the back rest returns, not to your pre-selected angle, but rather to the full upright position. After you’ve dealt with this 2 or 3 times in the course of a day’s errands, you’ll wonder why Scion didn’t endow these otherwise excellent seats with backrest position memory. The rather elemental beverage holder between the front seats also garners a cost cutting demerit. It contains 2 identically sized receptacles, neither of which feature prongs to adapt to smaller diameter cups. As a result, my co-pilot was forced to stabilize a Starbucks “tall” size cup by hand, rather than rely on the sloppy fit of the holder. These shortcomings are a surprise in a cabin that is otherwise thoughtfully designed, with unexpectedly lavish attention to detail.

For example, the clutch, brake and accelerator “sport” pedals are furnished with slip free surfaces fashioned from rubber and aluminum that match the threshold scuff plates. This intricate bright work looks like it belongs on a Ferrari, not a bargain Scion. Likewise, the dash face looks suitably business like and racy thanks to a faux carbon fiber strip that garnishes the understated interior with just the right touch of glamour. Red contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, seat bolsters and door kick plates are the only traces of flamboyance in the tightly focused driving environment Scion has perfected here.

2014 Scion FR-S

The 215/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza R400 tires provide a slight handling improvement over the Michelin all-season radials fitted to previous FR-Ss throughout the first year of production. But given this coupe’s inherent balance and grip, it cries out for the stickiest aftermarket tires you can afford. If this FR-S landed in my garage on a permanent basis, it would be wearing a set of BFG, or Hoosier soft compound autocross rubber that would transform it into the go-kart Scion meant to be at birth.

2014 Scion FR-S

  • Engine: 2.0 liter opposed 4 cylinder DOHC, 16 Valve
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 151lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,455
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chrysler 300S

Thursday November 20th, 2014 at 8:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Chrysler 300S

By David Colman

Hypes: Perfect Ride/Handling Compromise, Value Pricing
Gripes: Overstuffed Front Chairs

Chrysler offers more varieties of its 300 sedan than Baskin Robbins sells flavors of ice cream. Our test car this week, the 300S, stands tall as a best buy in the 300 model range. It offers excellent performance and handling with enough luxury amenities to make you wonder how Chrysler can build it for a base price of just $34,395. Of course, this wouldn’t be a press test car without a substantial list of options, so add $1,995 for Customer Preferred Package 22G (Blind Spot Detection, Park Sense, Adaptive Speed Control, Forward Collision Warning). Tack on another $895 for Bi-Xenon HID Headlamps, $1,595 for the Dual Pane Panoramic Sunroof, and $995 for an infotainment system that features Garmin Navigation. So you’re out the door price swiftly rises to $40,870. Is the 300S still a best buy at that elevated figure? You bet it is.

Among the varietals of 300, the 300S offers the best compromise between economy and performance. It utilizes the fuel efficient 3.6 liter V6 to achieve a reputable 31MPG on the highway. Yet this engine, in its elevated “S” stage of tune, is sophisticated enough to produce 300hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s 8hp and 4 lb.-ft. more than the base 300′s V6. Chrysler couples this S engine to its new 8-speed automatic gearbox, so you have a huge range of gear ratios to select for every application. Need more than 300hp? If so, opt for either the 5.7 liter HEMI (363hp) or the monster 6.4 liter HEMI (470hp). Either of those optional V-8s are available in the 300S, but neither of them use the slick new 8-speed “Autostick” transmission. Rather, both make do with a 5-speed automatic, and both will barely break 20MPG in highway cruising.

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Besides the up-rated motor, the following improvements set the S apart from other 300 models: performance tires, sport mode, fog lamps, premium sound system, power seats, passenger lumbar adjustment, keyless start, universal garage door opener, remote engine start, security system and back-up camera. You will also discover discrete “300S” identifiers on the trunk lid and the front seat headrests. The most obvious clue to S identity resides in the wheel wells, where handsome, rugged looking 8×20 inch “Black Aluminum” wheels support beefy Firestone Firehawk GT radials measuring 245/45R20 at all corners. These alloys are actually finished in a dark vapor chrome that demands use of mild soap and water and soft cloth ONLY for cleaning. In concert with the S’s “4- wheel independent touring suspension,” this big Chrysler combines adept handling with a relaxed ride that comes close to achieving the ideal compromise between two disparate goals. The Firehawk tires, an unusual choice for an OEM application, play a significant role in adding traction while calming the ride. The other factor playing into the performance equation is the “Sport Mode” feature of the S model, which firms up the damping of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers while also resetting shift points for maximum acceleration. To select Sport Mode, simply pull the floor-mounted Autostick lever back into its rear most “S” slot. The gearbox will then remain locked in whatever gear you select.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The luxuriant cabin of the 300S is enhanced by the panoramic sunroof. Because the beltline of the 300 is relatively high, the side windows are necessarily short. This might lead to a touch of claustrophobia were it not for the huge overhead light source provided by the double pane roof. The elegantly understated detailing of the 300′s interior will exceed your expectations for a car in this price range. Chrysler’s selection of seat material, headliner fabric, and dashboard covering all blend harmoniously to form a comfort zone that you will always look forward to enjoying. Although I found the front seats to be a bit overstuffed, the driving controls are so well placed in relation to the leather rimmed steering wheel that everything falls readily to hand. Particularly appreciated are the stubby flaps just behind the wheel rim that allow you to control transmission gear choice manually. With 8 nicely spaced ratios from which to choose, you will never be at a loss for the proper gear.

2014 Chrysler 300S

The 300S is the perfect sedan choice for someone who relishes fast but efficient transportation for 4 adults. While the S’s V6 will never match the torque nor head snapping performance of the optional HEMI V8s, you won’t find yourself making fuel stops nearly as often either. Chrysler advertising touts the 300 as being “Imported – from Detroit.” In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the 300S is “Imported from Canada,” where it is assembled (Brampton, Ontario) from an engine made in the USA and a transmission constructed in Mexico. Despite that, the 300S is as American as you can get. Brawny motor, luxo-cabin trappings, startling styling, and domestic pricing. This one is an all around winner.

2014 Chrysler 300S

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V6, 24 Valves with VVT
  • Horsepower: 300hp
  • Torque: 264 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $40,870
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Wednesday November 19th, 2014 at 12:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Value Audi of All
Gripes: MMI computer interface system needs work

Shopping for an Audi is like shopping for a suit at Brooks Brothers. Audi’s top line models such as the A8 are equivalent to custom tailored Brooks Brothers dress ware in terms of price and quality. At the other end of the spectrum is their mass produced sedan, our A3 test car. Yes, it too carries the Audi name, but like a Brook Brothers “346″ Outlet Store suit, it offers less costly admittance to the store through the side door. Our A3 is really Audi’s loss leader, with its base price of just $29,900. Even decked out with a smattering of extras (Glacier White Metallic paint for $550, Navigation Plus for $1,900, Cold Weather Package for $500, Aluminum Style Package for $450), this Audi slides out the dealer’s front door for just $34,195. Welcome to your back row balcony seat in the Audi/torium.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

Conspicuously absent from this A3′s standard fitment is Quattro, Audi’s all-wheel-drive system. The entry level model is a front-wheel-drive sedan, powered by Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.8 liter inline 4, making 170hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine drives the front wheels through an “S Tronic” 6-speed automatic gearbox. If you want Quattro you’ll need to pay $3,000 to upgrade to the 2.0 liter engine and all-wheel-drive version of the A3. If you are familiar with current VW products like the Golf, Jetta and Passat, the A3 will feel very familiar. The 1.8 liter turbo takes some judicious management via the shift lever to deliver maximum thrust. Unfortunately, you can only swap gears manually with the floor stick itself, as the steering wheel lacks paddles for shift changes.

Since the A3′s suspension geometry derives largely from that of the VW Golf, handling is dependably sure footed. Even when the first rains of winter slickened the oily pavement, the A3 stuck to its line through a succession of testy curves. The Audi’s simplified 5-spoke “star design” alloy wheels mount Continental Sport Contact tires (225/45R17) at each corner. Speed sensitive electronic power steering transfers information from the front contact patches of the Continental tires to your hands with informative alacrity.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

You can perform some neat parlor magic tricks by inserting the ignition key into the slot of the driver’s door and holding it to the right. This will close all open windows and sunroof as well as locking the car. Turn and hold it the other way and you’ll open and unlock all windows and sunroof. The Panorama sunroof is notable for its extravagant size and nicely finished sliding interior shade panel. The front seats are definitely a grade above VW issue. Finished with leather surface, the driver’s seat offers 12 way adjustment, though fore and aft travel is curiously manual. The passenger’s seat makes do with manual adjustment for rake and slide, and both seats could do with more lateral bolster support. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split. The A3 also enjoys a cavernous trunk with a sub-floor compartment for space saver spare, jack and small tool roll. The MMI navigation color display ingeniously pops out of the dash when you start the A3, and becomes the focal point for all your climate, navigation and entertainment needs. In an effort to keep the dash face free of incidental controls, Audi moved nearly all switches to the center tunnel surface between the seats. You will struggle to figure out exactly what the big knob controls without taking your eyes off the road. The system verges on dysfunctional. Relocation of the radio volume knob to the center console is particularly annoying. On the other hand, Audi has produced the very best vent controls in the car business. Each of the 4 gaping supply orifices on the dash face are encircled by knurled aluminum rings that can be twisted to admit more or less air. Absolutely brilliant engineering.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

The A3, which is built by Audi in Hungary, presents an affordable route to Audi ownership for the new car buyer. For this kind of money, you won’t get Audi’s trademarked Quattro system, but you will enjoy a level of build quality, sleek German Bauhaus design, and responsive performance that is hard to match for the price.

2015 Audi A3 1.8T FWD

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline DOHC 16-valve 4, turbocharged and intercooled, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170 @ 6,200rpm
  • Torque: 200lb.-ft. @ 1,600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 23 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,195
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Tuesday November 18th, 2014 at 4:1111 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Utilitarian, Affordable
Gripes: Down on Power, Cheap Interior Touches

This compact crossover has enough cargo capacity (37 cubic feet) to compete with mid-size crossovers. I was frankly surprised at the ease with which the RAV4 swallowed my mountain bike without requiring the usual twist and fold routine. In fact, the bike slid right into place without so much as a snag anywhere. The Limited version of this petite Toyota even includes electronic operation for the tailgate. Low loading height further insures easy stowage and retrieval. I have driven many compact and mid size SUVs that could not match the RAV4′s magnanimous cargo access.

The latest iteration of the RAV4 came to market in 2013 and remains largely unchanged this year. A large displacement (2.5 liter) in-line 4 cylinder engine makes 176hp and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. This fuel efficient motor posts a commendable EPA average of 25 MPG overall. But fuel savings come at the expense of straight line performance. Because this SUV weighs 3,535 pounds, each one of those 176 horses are tasked with moving 20 pounds. Consequently, the RAV4′s throttle pedal must be pushed hard to keep up with traffic flow. It takes nearly 17 seconds to run the quarter mile from a standing start. However, you can upgrade to a Tesla designed electric version of the RAV4. This EV’s rated at 154hp but delivers a whopping 273 lb.-ft. of torque. But hurry, because Toyota plans to phase out the RAV4 EV in the near future. If you like the compact dimensions of the RAV4, but seek more power, you may want to cross shop the 2015 Lexus NX, which shares its platform with the RAV4. The Lexus offers 235hp thanks to its turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Toyota includes a number of active safety measures in the DNA of the RAV4. This assortment of innovations, which Toyota calls its Star Safety System, contributes to your well being by providing stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist. Although passive safety boasts 8 airbags, the RAV4 scores a “Poor” Rating on the Front Small Overlap test administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crash test, first administered in 2012, measures damage incurred when just 25 percent of a vehicle front hits a fixed object at 40mph. The RAV4′s poor result in this category has caused Consumer Reports to retract its “Recommended” endorsement.

The RAV4 is tow rated at 1,500 pounds. Although it will tow a modest trailer, the RAV4 itself is not meant to be towed behind a motor home, dinghy style. In its latest iteration, the RAV4 has matured into a utilitarian device that will fill the bill if you need a do-it-all urban companion. Responsive handling is augmented by 235/55R18 Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires at each corner. Ride quality is never harsh thanks to the Bridgestone’s tall sidewalls and the RAV4′s soft spring rates.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

From its introduction as a petite SUV offering limited space for passengers or storage, this compact cross over now provides seating for 5, easy access to the folding rear bench seat, lots of side window glass for great outward visibility, and enough orchestral choices to make even the shortest trip a music endowed vacation. The “EN” option package, which costs an extra $785, is well worth the cost if you value entertainment while driving. For this relatively modest outlay, Toyota will provide you with a laundry list of extras that start with a 6.1 inch touch screen on the dash. This interface controls a premium JBL AM/FM/CD player with 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You also gain access to HD radio, traffic reports and a suite of Toyota backed “Entune” applications to simplify your cruising life. The touch screen also provides navigational assistance and serves as a back-up camera projector when reverse gear is engaged. However, you would do well to avoid paying $725 extra for the “TP” Technology Package, which contributes lane departure warning advice, monitors blind spots, and regulates use of high beam headlights.

The Toyota RAV4 presents an inexpensive route to all-wheel-drive mini SUV ownership. While it may not be the fastest, or the best handling choice in the marketplace, it does administer a solid dose of Toyota virtue: RAV4 is inexpensive to own and operate, with good value retention over the life of the vehicle.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

2014 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC, 16 Valve inline 4 with Dual VVT-i
  • Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 172 lb.-ft. @ 4,100rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 22 MPG CITY/29 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,315
  • Star Rating: 7 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Tuesday October 21st, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

By David Colman

Hypes: Tremendous Range, Low Speed Torque, Luxury cabin
Gripes: VW lags competitors in JD POWERS IQS (Initial Quality Survey)

It’s really too bad that you can’t use your X-ray eyes to look through the engine shroud covering VW’s all new turbo diesel EA288 engine. If you could, you would realize just how much more sophisticated this new diesel is than its predecessor, the EA189. Only the cylinder bore center dimension remains the same. Everything else about the EA288 is new and improved. Inside you’ll find a cast iron block mated to an aluminum cylinder head, with overhead camshafts operating both intake and exhaust valves from the same cam. This novel arrangement promotes greater air delivery and swirl in the combustion chambers. Net result to you is improved performance and better mileage than before. The new diesel bumps horsepower output to 150 hp (from the EA189′s 140 hp). Torque is abundant, with a wallop of 236 lb.-ft. hitting home at just 1,750 rpm. Best of all, the new diesel’s intelligent architecture yields an eye popping mileage dividend. If you order your TDI with 6-speed manual transmission, expect 44MPG on the highway and a cruising range of 814 miles between refueling stops.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Our test TDI was equipped with VW’s dual clutch automatic DSG gearbox, a no-charge option on the SEL Premium model. Although the DSG slightly lowers highway mileage to 42MPG, you can still expect 34MPG in overall driving. The DSG is unquestionably one of the best automatic transmissions on the market today. Like the manual, it also offers 6 speeds, with an opportunity to select individual ratios by slotting the floor mounted stick into the manual segment of its gate. However, because the diesel affords so much torque so low in its rpm range, manual gear control is hardly ever necessary. Just press the accelerator and feel that gratifying rush of instant torque.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

The rich interior of the Passat SEL belies its reasonable $33,585 window sticker. If you opt for the SEL Premium version, you will receive leather, rather than vinyl seating surfaces, comfort sport seats, rain sensing wipers, Fender premium audio with 8 speakers and sub woofer, RNS 510 navigation system, 8 way power seats for both driver and passenger, and wood grained dash and door trim. In other woods, the appropriately named “Corn Silk Beige” cabin of this Passat matches up well with BMW and Mercedes products costing twice as much. We put the Fender audio to the test by slipping Linda Ronstadt’s new Starbuck’s CD into the dash slot and cranking the volume way up. The 8 speakers and sub woofer translated her old standards into concert hall sound while conveniently displaying the name and time of each cut on the navigation screen panel. In an increasingly digitized world, the Passat’s interior strikes a calming classic note, with its analog clock face prominently displayed atop the center stack of the dash. Large, round, easily read instrument faces of the 6,000rpm tachometer and 160mph speedometer also fly in the face of the flashy, confusing TFT dials that have become so popular today.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Handling has long been a VW asset, and the latest Passat continues the tradition, with its finely balanced strut front/multi-link rear independent suspension design. Ride comfort is excellent, thanks in part to the cushy all-season Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) which stress bump absorption over ultimate grip. New for 2015 is electro-mechanical power steering, which places a premium on feedback and precision. Turning radius of the Passat is a scant 36.4 feet, making this sizeable four door feel more like a sports car than a ponderous sedan.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

VW stresses horizontality in the styling of the Passat. Strong chrome grill bands emphasize the sedan’s substantial 72.2 inch width. A swept back roofline culminates in a nearly flat rear window which gives this sedan coupe-like grace. Understated elegance characterizes the interior and exterior design language of the Passat. There is a certain timeless quality to good design, and the latest Passat enjoys that ephemeral virtue. Build quality from VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, TN matches the best output from Wolfsburg, Germany. Doors open smartly to pre-determined detents, interior trim surfaces mate precisely, even the glovebox door glides open slowly and deliberately. No obvious corners have been cut in fabricating this VW.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 diesel with Direct Injection and turbocharging
  • Horsepower: 150ho @3,500rpm
  • Torque: 236lb.-ft.@1,750rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,405
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Monday October 20th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

By David Colman

Hypes: Breakthrough SUV/Sports Car
Gripes: Needs Passenger Controlled Rear Seat Ventilation

How do you define sports car? If your description includes “low slung two seat conveyance,” you’re hopelessly out of touch with the times. Porsche has just redefined the concept of sports car to include elevated ride height and seating for five. They call their new segment buster the Macan. In Turbo trim, this stubby and potent compact SUV will run the wheels off any “sports car” you care to choose — including such stalwarts from Porsche as the Cayman and 911. The Macan Turbo, thanks to 400hp and 406 pound-feet of torque, will cover the 0-60MPH run in 4.4 seconds and top out at 164mph. Is that sporty enough for you?

Macan shares some similarities with VW family tree relative, Audi’s Q5. But unlike Porsche’s full size SUV Cayenne, which is closely related to VW’s Touareg, the Macan neither resembles nor performs like the Q5. In fact, the Macan Turbo occupies an SUV niche of its own, capable of providing top echelon sports car performance on paved roads or Baja busting transit over special outback stages. The trick to unleashing Macan’s double edged potential lies in checking the right boxes when you configure your order. You will want to specify the following essential options: Sport Chrono Package ($1,290), Air Suspension including Porsche Active Suspension Management ($1,385), and 21″ 911 Turbo Design Wheels ($3,300). Our test Macan (Base price: $72,300), finished in Agate Grey Metallic ($690), also included a scrumptious Natural Leather Interior in Espresso, Brushed Aluminum door, dash and shifter trim (NC), and a sensational Burmester High-End Surround Sound music system ($4,290).

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

The Sport Chrono option, signified by the presence of a stop watch mounted atop the dash, works in consort with the standard PDK 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox to unleash brutal standing start acceleration with launch control. Chrono equipped Macans run to 60mph from a dead stop 2 tenths of a second quicker than non-Chrono Macans. Chrono also enhances your driving menu with selections ranging from “Comfort,” to “Sport” and “Sport+.” Comfort is freeway plush, Sport tightens up responsiveness of steering and shocks considerably, while Sport+ nails the platform to the road with vise-like precision. The air suspension option provides four ride height settings (Normal, Low, Loading and Off-Road), choices unavailable on Macans with standard steel suspension. The Low setting drops your Macan 15mm below the ride height of a standard suspension Macan. When that reduced ride height is coupled to the adhesive Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tires (265/40R21 front, 295/35R21 rear) that shoe the 21 inch 911 Turbo alloys, the Macan Turbo transforms itself into a potent canyon carver that will stick with any model Porsche “sports car.” As an added incentive, the dazzling 21s make the Turbo look just like a Hot Wheels dream toy.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

Yet inside this potent bomb, all is serene and elegant. The Espresso leather, immaculately stitched and complemented by understated brushed aluminum trim, imparts an elegance level befitting a $90,000 vehicle. The Burmester system will rip your ear drums to shreds or murmur sweet nothings with the twist of a dial. The steering wheel in the Macan, the first to be borrowed from the design used in Porsche’s million dollar 918, features knurled thumb knobs to control stereo volume (left thumb), or access informative diagnostics (right thumb). Porsche’s excellent 18-way adjustable Sport Seat, a carryover from the Boxster, Cayman and 911, is standard issue on the Macan Turbo. It is impossible to fault for comfort or adjustability, with 3 memory positions available for each front seat occupant. The Macan’s ample window height insures excellent side vision. Rear seat passengers will enjoy the exaggerated greenhouse effect, though they are not given ventilation outlets of their own to control. With rear seats erect, you are left with a useful flat trunk space of 17.7 cubic feet, which expands to 53 cubic feet when you drop the 60/40 split rear seats flat. Don’t forget that lowering the air suspension to the “Load” setting will facilitate any Sherpa detail you might have in mind for your Macan. You’ll be hard pressed to find that kind of luxuriant and accessible storage in any other sports car.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

When I first read Porsche’s brochure claim that the new Macan is “The first true sports car among compact SUVs,” I was highly dubious about the merit of this accolade. After spending a fairly euphoric week behind the Macan’s 918-style wheel, I would have to agree with the conclusion that this brutal looking Leatherman tool defines a new category of its own. Porsche has devised a 4-door 5 seat sports car that may look like an SUV but drives like something else entirely.

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

2015 Porsche Macan Turbo

  • Engine: 3.6 liter V-6 Twin Turbo
  • Horsepower: 400hp @ 6,000rpm
  • Torque: 406 lb.-ft. @ 1,350-4,000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 17.1 MPG (Observed)
  • Price as Tested: $87,940
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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